Please share with us a little about your life and nursing career
I was born in Newcastle, England, and from my earliest memories I always wanted to be a nurse. After graduating, I was persuaded by a good friend to come to South Africa, and arrived in May 1985 on a two-year contract to Morningside Clinic in Johannesburg. Soon thereafter I met an Englishman and we subsequently got married. We have two sons and a daughter – all in their twenties. My two year stay turned into 31 years!
What sparked your interest in end-of-life and palliative care?
On my last assignment as a student nurse at Newcastle General Hospital, I was placed on a chemotherapy / radiation ward. I fell in love with the concept of terminal care and the challenges and rewards that came with it. Then later, while working for a Specialist Physician in Johannesburg, I was asked one day to decline an invitation to a HospiceWits function.
As I rang the number I had an epiphany – it was as though a light bulb came on in my head! I duly declined the doctor’s invitation and got myself a job at HospiceWits.
Please share with us the challenges & rewards of your daily life?
Hospice work can be very challenging as we are dealing with death and dying every day. We know our patients will not recover, but there is always something that can be done to improve their day-to-day living.
It is a privilege to be welcomed into a patient’s home to share their final journey with them. We sometimes have to deal with angry families and patients – misplaced anger can be directed at the hospice nurse, making it hard not to take it personally.
On the whole, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages to know that we have made a positive difference in the patient’s last few days – whether it’s due to counselling or symptom control, it makes the job so worthwhile.
What feeds your spirit?
I love music and reading – physical exercise is also important so I attend gym regularly. My husband and children are very supportive and understand the nature of my work.
- Can you share a story about your work that illustrates what you love about it?
I saw a young, 33-year-old male patient last week who lived outside HospiceWits’ area of operation, but as there was no hospice availability I was asked to assess his condition. I found a young man paralysed from the waist down and in severe pain. He desperately wanted to be able to work and drive again, and was living with his girlfriend and her two children, aged five and eight, respectively.
We decided to admit him to our in-patient unit for symptom control – his girlfriend was very stressed and exhausted and was experiencing major financial problems as well. The patient was admitted the next morning – he sat in our carpark for 20 minutes before deciding to enter the unit.
On admission he looked terminal and was understandably anxious, but settled in very quickly. I was surprised to hear the following morning that he had passed away peacefully with his family around him.
It seems as though he knew hospice was where he needed to be to let go. His family was very grateful for the care and support he received from HospiceWits. Cases like this one make all the hard work worthwhile.